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Niagara-Bona rivalry has undercurrent

Andrew Nicholson's usually quieter than a whisper and less forthcoming than the secret service. He walks into postgame news conferences with a grim look and proceeds to answer questions as if being docked court time for every word uttered. Given the choice between meeting the media or taking rabies shots, doubtless Nicholson would opt for the needles.

But Nicholson's trademark hush took leave following last year's loss to Niagara. The all-Atlantic 10 center had something on his mind and asked the sports information department to feed him a question if reporters didn't. When his wish was granted, Nicholson let fly.

"Niagara did a good job but the way they handled it I thought was unprofessional," he said. "The coach was harping on us during the game. You don't really see that, but I just think it was a program -- that was disrespectful.

"It's basketball. What's done between the lines should stay there. As the coach is coming (off), doesn't shake our hand, doesn't say anything to us, I thought it was unprofessional what he did. I mean congratulations to them, they played hard, they beat us."

"I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about," countered Niagara Joe Mihalich. "There's a chance I didn't (shake) because I don't remember."

The undercurrents of dislike should make Friday night all the more interesting when the two Little Three schools renew their rivalry in the Gallagher Center. The last time St. Bonaventure beat Niagara, the likes of Marques Green and J.R. Bremer filled the nets. Jan van Breda Koff ran the show. And the recruiting scandal that would land the Bonnies on probation and cast the program into the abyss still hadn't come to light.

That was a little more than a decade, almost 3,700 days, ago. Bona's last win in the series came on Patricio Prato's 22nd birthday. That's how long it's been: Nov. 24, 2001.

One would have figured Niagara's dominance wouldn't survive the Nicholson era. But it has, even though the sure-fire NBA draft pick has averaged 21.3 points in the series. Nicholson scored 23 (shooting 11 of 14) in an 84-65 loss his freshman season. He struck for 24 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore, colossal numbers considering foul trouble limited him to 16 minutes, as Niagara rallied from 19 down to a 77-71 victory. And then there was last season, when Mihalich took a young 2-7 team into the Reilly Center, confounded Nicholson (17 points) and the Bonnies with a 2-3 zone and won, 69-61.

Once again, Niagara will be disadvantaged in the post. The Purple Eagles (4-8) can't match up physically with Nicholson or Da'Quan Cook. So what will Mihalich throw at them this time? Will he go with that same zone and play at a controlled tempo or will he challenge Bona's backcourt with a press that's been effective the few times he's used it?

The latter's probably a good bet given Bona's lack of a steady hand at point guard and Niagara's improved depth resulting from the addition of Malcolm Lemmons. He returned from a bout with mono to score 13 points in 26 minutes in Thursday's loss at Quinnipiac.

Niagara won't wait until Friday to get back on the court. The Purple Eagles entertain 1-10 Maryland-Baltimore County on Wednesday night and hit the road shortly after facing Bona for a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game at Loyola (Md.). Bona (6-5) will be playing for the first time since thumping St. Francis (Pa.), 82-58, on Friday, a game in which fouls limited Nicholson to nine minutes and seven points. His scoring average is down to 14.8 -- six points under his junior year average of 20.8. He's also taking almost 2 1/2 fewer shots a game.

Meanwhile, the University at Buffalo plays only twice between Dec. 10 and Jan. 7 and the last of those two games is Thursday night at Temple (7-3) of the Atlantic 10. The Bulls (6-3) have been off since a 93-78 loss at BYU on Dec. 20.

Opportunity knocks for Canisius. The 2-9 Griffs face 0-10 Binghamton on Wednesday night in the Koessler Center before traveling to Fairfield for a New Year's Day MAAC encounter with the Stags.


RPI Update has St. Bonaventure No. 97 in the Ratings Percentage Index and UB at No. 126. has the Atlantic 10 rated No. 7 among conferences followed by the Mid-American Conference (No. 14) and the MAAC (No. 16).

Xavier's post-brawl three-game losing streak could hurt the A-10 in the long haul. Saint Joseph's is now the conference's best RPI at No. 48. And how about the Pac-12, which is down to No. 9 among conferences and trails both the A-10 and the Missouri Valley Conference. The Pac-12 has no team higher than 57th in the RPIs (Arizona at 9-4). Meanwhile, Ohio of the MAC and Iona of the MAAC are both in the top 20. All that will change with the built-in biases that accompany conference play.


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